Mark Ruskell: Public transport put at heart of Covid recovery

PUBLIC transport is at the heart of our lives. It influences where we live, where we work, and where and when we see our friends and family.

It is particularly vital in rural areas, with UN envoy Philip Alston comparing it to water and electricity in terms of importance.

When bus or train services are disrupted, it can have a significant impact on people’s well-being and access to vital services. In Clackmannanshire, which I represent, I supported a vibrant community campaign to save the X53 bus service that connects Kinross to Stirling.

I worked with locals to bring their concerns to parliament, where I led a debate on local bus services in December. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, First Bus canceled the trip this week.

We need to change the way these services are funded and managed to ensure that our communities are no longer isolated. With the Greens in government, we are placing public transport at the heart of our recovery.

One of the biggest barriers to public transport is cost, with many low-income people excluded from bus and train fares. This was happening before the pandemic, with figures from Transport Scotland showing a 9% rise in bus fares from 2015 to 2019 (beyond general inflation). This is one of the reasons why bus use is down – with a 12% reduction in the number of journeys over the same period.

At the same time, the number of drivers on the road was steadily increasing. More cars means poorer air quality and it is much harder for us to meet our climate goals.

READ MORE: Free youth bus trip to Scotland to kick off as applications open

As a Green, I believe that public transport should be free and accessible to everyone. I am delighted that we are taking a big step in this direction on January 31 when we introduce free bus travel across Scotland for anyone aged 21 or under.

This is not only a transformative policy in terms of family budgets and opening up opportunities for young people, it will also help us to keep people away from cars. By expanding the use of buses, we can help protect vital services, like X53, while reducing our emissions.

The scheme requires young people to register for a New National Entitlement Card (also known as the Young Scot Card). Old cards will not work, so registration is essential. It takes about 15 minutes to complete, with young people under 16 requiring an adult to apply. I registered my son when registration opened last week.

While many young people and their families will be able to apply for new NEC cards through the mobile app or other digital devices, those without access to the necessary ID documents may face additional hurdles when applying. access to the program.

My Green colleagues and I are doing everything we can to reduce these barriers. We are working with councils and the Scottish Government to make sure no one misses out on the scheme, especially those who might find the online application process difficult.

Contrary to what some have said, you do not need digital access or photo ID to apply, although if you have, you can apply online using a smartphone. Schools and councils can help you apply directly in person if you can’t log in or don’t have ID available.

The card is a key part of our plans to build a resilient, sustainable and integrated transport network and to ensure that public transport is the first and best choice for travel.

Public transport is far too important to simply be left to the market. That’s why we’re strengthening public ownership, with the Scottish Greens’ Co-operation Agreement with the Scottish Government providing a £500million Community Bus Fund to promote locally owned services and put communities in the driver’s seat.

I know buses are not always viable for long trips across the country. If we want to develop green travel, we must ensure that bus and train services complement each other and that the train is also an affordable and accessible option.

To do this, we are investing £5 billion in decarbonising and improving our railways, as well as launching a fair fare review to ensure our trains offer good value for money as well as first class service.

By investing in public transportation, we are investing in our communities. We create opportunities and support services that are vital to our well-being. This is the kind of ambitious and transformative change that the Greens are in parliament to secure. I am delighted that we have been able to take a vital green policy from the drawing board to reality and that, despite the difficulties of Covid, essential travellers, such as key workers, will be able to feel the benefits from day one.

Young people aged 5 to 21 have several ways to obtain their card in order to access free bus transport: l Online at GETYOURNEC.SCOT l Via a town hall where it is not possible to apply online line l In some municipalities, schools coordinate applications on behalf of students.

To apply online, you will need a device with a camera or webcam, proof of identity and proof of address.

Young people between the ages of 16 and 21 must apply themselves, while parents or guardians must apply on behalf of children between the ages of 5 and 15. Children under five do not need to apply.

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